Ballycastle denied by Castlegar in historic All Ireland club final

Forty years ago today (June 1st) Ballycastle became the first Ulster team to play in an All Ireland Club Hurling final when they took on Galway champions Castlegar in the decider at Pairc Tailteann, Navan. It was also the first time, and the only time up until Cushendall played Sarsfields in the 2006 decider that both Munster and Leinster champions did not compete on the big day.

After beating Leinster champions Crumlin decisively in the semi-final
Ballycastle travelled with high hopes, despite pundits making the Galway champions red hot favourites. In this battle between the Connollys and the Donnellys there was little to choose between the sides for most of the game and with just minutes remaining just a point separated the sides.              

However the Connolly backed Castlegar finished strongly with two late points to become the first Galway team to win the Tommy Moore Cup.

The report of the game used here appeared in one of the Galway papers and quite understandably has a slight Galway slant to it but ask anyone who was there that day and they will tell you that there was little or nothing to chose between these two fine sides on the day.

The programme for the 1980 All Ireland Club final with its hand written cover

All Ireland Club Senior Hurling final – June 1st 1980

Castlegar (Galway) 1-11 Ballycastle (Antrim) 1-8

Castlegar Crowned Champions

By Bob McDonald

They used up all the clichés on the way home from Navan on Sunday People spoke of an historic victory for Galway hurling and just reward for Castlegar’s dominance of the hurling scene here over the past two years. Others even had the cheek to suggest it was John Connolly’s first and last All Ireland medal. No doubt the big centre half back would have his own opinion about such a supposition, but he couldn’t argue with the fact that Sunday’s victory over Ballycastle must rank as one of the sweetest victories in his illustrious career.

And the Castlegar supporters knew fine well just what it meant to their heroes to bring the Tommy Moore Cup back to Galway. It was a magnificent victory and it was fitting that each of the fifteen Castlegar fifteen produced memorable performances against an excellent Ballycastle outfit, whose skill and honest endeavour might have reaped them greater rewards against lesser sides.

But on the day the Galway men were unbeatable but even the most objective supporters could not help be caught up in the sheer excitement and closeness of this hard fought game. Castlegar proved they were worthy champions when they came back from three points down at a stage in the opening half to lead by a point at half time. They survived a gruelling five minutes spell on the resumption when the ball rarely, if ever, left their half, but finally they gained the upper hand and stormed into attack to confirm their winning margin.

And there was coolness too when five minute from time Castlegar were awarded a penalty which if scored would have put the game beyond doubt, but Joe Connolly showed a cool head to fire the ball over the bar – discretion being the better part of valour.

Three factors decided the outcome of this game. Castlegar’s ground hurling was far superior to that of their opponents (the only are in which they had a distinct advantage). Time and time again a Ballycastle man was first to the ball, only to have it knocked away with a clever flick, but that was the only difference as far as hurling skill went. Then when the going got tough at midfield where Tom Murphy and Seamus Fahy were well beaten by Ballycastle’s Terence Barton and Stephen Boyle, Joe Connolly dropped back from centre-forward to help out, and when he wasn’t there brother John stayed up from the half-back line. The final, and probably most telling factor was that the Castlegar backs who were absolutely brilliant in containing a fast and dangerous set of forwards, hell ben on playing their hearts out to the bitter end.

Castlegar started the game on a somewhat shaky footing and had it not been for Joe Connolly’s excellent free taking, they might have found themselves in deep trouble. The early stages of the game developed into something of a free-taking shoot-out between Connolly and Ballycastle marksman Peter Boyle. In fact no fewer that seven of Castlegar’s first half points came from Joe Connolly frees, the other one, a real beauty, came from big brother John from way out on the right wing.   

But Castlegar had to survive some moments before they went in at half time with a one point lead and one stage they trailed by three after Olcan Laverty took advantage of a defensive slip-up to fire home the Ballycaste goal. The goal came after fifteen minutes and might have been a hammer blow for lesser sides. Goalkeeper Tom Gorgan delayed fractionally over a clearance and was blocked down by a Ballycastle forward and as the ball broke Laverty lashed it high into the Castlegar net. That left the score 1-4 to 0-4 and the Galway side seemed to have it all to do, but to their credit they responded magnificently. The defence closed down every Ballycastle move as soon as it began, while at the other end Joe Connolly continued to pick off the points and his team battled back to lead by 0-8 to 1-4 at half-time.

The opening period of the second half saw an incredible period of pressure from Ballycastle, and equally incredible defence from the Castlegar backs. Although the ball hardly left the Castlegar half for the opening five minutes the Ballycastle forwards never got a clear shooting opportunity. The backs harried, hassled and harassed the Ballycastle forwards. Time and again the Ballycastle men were first to the ball but they were soon closed down and the scoring opportunity was gone. Eventually the Galway men lifted the siege and a beautiful movement involving John and Joe Connolly left Jimmy Francis with a simple task to take his point.

A minute later Joe Connolly won possession out on the wing and dropped the ball in around the Ballycastle square where corner-forward Liam Mulryan doubled the ball to the net, for the telling score of the game. Ballycastle battled back and three more points from the Peter Boyle and one from Terence Barton cut the gap back to a point but Gerry and Joe Connolly hit back with points in the dying minutes to seal the win.

CASTLEGAR – T Grogan, T Murphy, P Connolly, J Coady, G Glynn, John Connolly (0-1), M Glynn, T Murphy, S Fahy, J Francis (0-1) , Joe Connolly (0-8-all frees), P Connor, G Connolly (0-1), M Connolly, M Connor, L Mulryan (1-0).

Subs – P Burke for Connor (half time)

BALLYCASTLE – Paul Smyth, Kevin Boyle, Kevin Donnelly, Gerard McAuley, Seamus Donnelly, Terence Donnelly, Dessie Donnelly, Terence Barton (0-1), Stephen Boyle, Brian Donnelly, Phelim Watson, Peter Boyle (0-7), Peter Dallat, Eddie Donnelly, Olcan Laverty (1-0).

SUBS – John McHenry, Charlie McVeigh, Paul Kelly, Brendan Donnelly, Mickey Dallat.

Referee – N Duggan Limerick  

St. Gall’s ‘Best 15’ footballers

Today we look at St. Galls, Antrim’s most successful club and include their ‘Best 15’ through the eyes of one of their stalwarts, Chris Kerr. Big Chris has been part of the St. Galls and Antrim setup for more than a decade and is still regarded as one of the county’s top goalkeepers. He has modestly excluded himself from his ‘Best 15’ and it certainly looks a side to be reckoned with.

  1. Ronan Gallagher
  2. Colin Brady
  3. Andy McClean
  4. Paul Veronica
  5. Terry O’Neill
  6. Conor Burke
  7. Sean Kelly
  8. Sean Burke
  9. Aodhan Gallagher
  10. Karl Stewart
  11. Kieran McGourty
  12. Kevin McGourty
  13. Cj McGourty
  14. Kevin Niblock
  15. Michael Pllock

Probably one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever been given. How do you pick a team from the most successful Antrim club team ever with such an incredible period of dominance In goals – obviously I couldn’t pick myself so I’ll give one of the other lads a run! I was very fortunate to grow up and work alongside with so many top goalkeepers Ciaran O’Connor, Paddy Murray & Ronan Gallagher all with brilliant attributes that I have taken on board and use myself in my own game – Paddy had a massive presence very imposing figure which forwards hated the sight off. Ciaran O’Connor fantastic shot stopper and really top class striker of the ball. Ronan was a top class kicker and hitting space utilising short kick outs 10 years ago, nominated all-star and great organiser – so I’ll give the nod just to Ronan Gallagher. Although I had the voodoo doll out for all 3 of them at a stage! Forwards win you games but defenders win you championships. We were and are so fortunate to have so many top defenders who could win battles 1v1. Colin Brady the best man marker I’ve seen up close & personal, so quick, strong, great tackler and hands , superb reading of the game and calming voice never panics nothing- always says the right thing at the right times. Andy McClean incredible athlete, so big, strong, aggressive on the ground and in the air, and can’t half play ball also. Had a great understanding with him at no3. Class act.

Paul Veronica ferocious tackler, hard as nails, quick and aggressive would put his head where some wouldn’t put their feet massive fan.  Terry O’Neill could play anywhere from 5 onwards. Quality player – to do it for so long and the standard of performance and his cv speaks volumes, one of the all -time greats – can tackle, score, work rate and break ball specialist and would run through a brick wall for St galls – Conor Burke such a big man, brilliant athlete and man marker can play anywhere out the pitch. Sean Kelly at 7. Nothing else needed. The best player I’ve ever played with in every aspect – talent, ability, attitude, temperament. Simon Kennedy, Gary McGirr & Anto Healy just miss out. Midfield – had to go with Sean Burke and Aodhan Gallagher. Complement each other so well. Both mobile, brilliant in the air, hard as nails and can hit like a mule and both can play ball. Mark McCrory was a classy footballer along with Ciaran Mc Crossan during my earlier years. Forwards – some of the forwards Karl Stewart all day – hard as nails – classy and skilful On the ball but can tackle, hit like a horse. Ginge is a quality player.

Kieran McGourty again to play at that level for so long it a testament to him, never had pace but had a brain that was 3-4 steps ahead of everyone else. Two footed, brilliant link man, picks the right pass and a break ball expert, a man for the bjg day. Kevin McGourty (Hank). You talk about athletes you talk about Hank, who could do it all, kick, pass, dominate the ball In the air – had the confidence and belief he could take anyone on. Could do it all. Incredible player – stifled by injuries but one of the best I’ve ever seen play. Cj McGourty. Bjg game player, been fortunate enough to see this man at his work from 5 years of age, crazy ability, best left foot in the county for well over a decade and has the accolades and performances to back it up. If you get a goal chance you want it in his hands. Brilliant from play and dead balls. Kevin Niblock at full forward – Can play anywhere, has it all. Strong as an Ox, great feet and vision, unreal ball winner in the air and on the ground. Can score any type of score. Class act. Micky Pollock – lightening quick, strong, can take a score of either foot – a defenders worst nightmare. Getting better with age. Can play anywhere from 8 to 15. Attitude, application and work rate to match the talent and ability.

Seanie Burns is another who could walk into any team. Class act from play and dead ball. Hard as nails and could take a score.


St. Mary’s Ahoghill ‘Best 15’ footballers

Today we feature Colum Graham’s selection of ‘Best 15’ footballers of St. Mary’s Ahoghill. Yesterday we feature a first when St. Mary’s Rasharkin ‘Best 15’ included a father and son and today Colum has bit the bullet by selecting himself, something which is perfectly OK. I had the privilege of seeing Colum playing and he would have made my ‘Best15’. Colum has added a few tongue in cheek comments which should get a few laughs.

Remember it’s only a bit of fun and no team will get universal approval but over the first three days the interest has been immense.

1 .Francis Neeson. Great shot stopper, likes to play the odd 1-2 with his defence and go for a run forward.

 2 .Gareth Hardy. Real natural footballer, deliveries of Coca Cola stopped him reaching his full potential.

 3 .Stephen O’Connell. One of the most gifted players I’ve ever seen play in the red & black. Sometimes would give you heart failure as he side steps players and then comes back and does it again to the same player.

 4. Paddy Graham. Tough corner back, ended some matches with blood on him, not always his own.

5 .Bernard (Budgie) O’Neill. .Flying half back, his heroics in our junior championship win over Portglenone in 1992 will never be forgotten.

6. Martin Graham. I just had to have him in here. Great passer of the ball, not always to his own team, great at dispossessing opposition, likes to play on the edge. Has calmed down since Sadie his first daughter was born.

7. Bernard Scullion. (Blondie) great hands, great speed. Remember well his ’50’ from out on the wing up in Randalstown against the breeze to win us a div 4 league match one Wednesday night in 1982, never seen the likes of him since.

8. Dermot Graham. (Big D), Hands like shovels could catch balls all day long, could he shoot, I’ll let others decide.

 9. Neill (Boris) O’Connell. Great hands also for midfield. Natural 2 footed player, believes he’s the best of the O’Connell’s.

10. .Dominic (Pencil) Neeson, always sharp, great engine, could run all day. His memorable fisted point against St.Gall’s to keep us in div 1 was just one of his highlights, can’t remember who got relegated?

11. Paddy Logan. What a natural footballer, came onto our seniors when he was about 15.Equally good with left or right, his juvenile career was success after success. God he was good.

12. Joe Downey (big Joe) great player to have around when protection was needed. Some managers have a player who is always first on the team sheet, when Jarlath O’Donnell was referring rumour had it he had Joe’s name pencilled into his wee black book before the match started.

13. Colum Graham (Alfie) just had to. When I scored a goal in the junior championship against Ardoyne in 1992, Geordie wrote, Graham’s goal was worth the admission fee alone. (Alfie, never received club footballer of the year, but we’ll never talk about it.) My kids don’t believe that was ever written in the paper.

14. Donal Graham. Great left foot, could always be guaranteed to get scores, must get that from his mother.

15. PJ O’Connell.Fast, sharp, great leap when going up for a ball. His quick thinking when he rattled the quick free into the Portglenone net in the O’Cahan Cup final was one I’ll never forget.

16. Harry Graham. Solely for his performances at full forward in the 9 aside competition that used to be hosted by All Saints up in Hugomount, he was unreal.

Keep you nominations coming! Over the coming days and weeks we hope to publish a ‘Best 15’ for every club in Antrim, football and hurling, but we can’t do it without the cooperation of clubs.

Rasharkin ‘Best 15’ footballers

Today we look at St. Mary’s Rasharkin’s ‘Best 15’ as seen by Liam Tunney, a former player and frequent contributor to the Saffron Gael. Liam’s team is a more recent 15 and therefore doesn’t include some of the great players of the past whom he didn’t have the pleasure to see in action. Liam’s team includes a first for this feature, father and son John and Eamonn McNeill. Remember it’s only a bit of fun and no 2 contributors are likely to name the same 15.

Club Team of my Lifetime

My conscious experience of being involved in the club and watching matches begins in the early 1990s, which rules out three greats in John McGarry, Frank Hasson and Christy Hardy, widely regarded as the best player ever to don the blue and yellow jersey.

The football side is backboned by a number of graduates from the 1999 minor championship-winning team, while there is a more modern feel to the hurling selection.

Hopefully, having a read through will have everyone itching for a sunny afternoon at Dreen, with a line of cars parked along the sideline and the pitch immaculate.

Here are the 15 I have opted for in both codes:


Goalkeeper – Sean Hardy

A tough call, with Sean just pipping Donal McLernon to the number 1 spot. For sheer longevity of service, the custodian was hard to look past, and indeed hard to get past. An excellent shot-stopper with the communication skills to organise his defence.

Right Corner Back – Alan McNeill

A tough competitor with plenty of pace, McNeill manned the corner at the beginning of the millennium when the club were regularly competitive at senior championship level. Tenacious and energetic in the tackle, forwards found him difficult to shake off.

Full Back – Michael Hardy

Living up to his father’s moniker of the ‘Gentle Giant’ Michael administered justice with a smile from full back. A solid defender, his leadership qualities lent themselves perfectly to the full back position.

Left Corner Back – Cathair O’Kane

‘Snout’ went about his defensive role with zealous application and relentlessly tortured many corner forwards throughout his career. Rarely shirked a tackle and was fully committed to the side.

Right Half Back – Michael Hasson

Currently exiled Down Under, ‘Mucksy’ was an underage star and provided the fulcrum of a dedicated ‘give it to Mucksy’ game plan. Settling into senior as a pacey defender with a self-driven licence to roam, he was part of the 2010 Antrim IFC success.

Centre Half Back – Thomas Doherty

Currently the club chairperson, ‘Bob’ is still lining out for the senior side. A member of the Antrim minor championship-winning side in 1999, his commitment in the tackle and ability to motivate those around him are key to his success.

Left Half Back – Paul Baird

Another member of that successful 1999 side, Paul was a tight defender who had the ability to pick out a pass with accuracy. He lined out in the forward line almost as often as the defence and knew where the posts were.

Midfield – Paul Doherty

Rasharkin’s own Rolls Royce, Paul had the size and skill to control any game from midfield. He represented Antrim at senior level and was included in the Ireland U17 compromised rules team that toured Australia in 2002.

Midfield – Brendan Hasson

Another towering midfielder, and a clubman who represented the county during the remarkable run to the Ulster Final in 2009, Brendan’s surging runs and physicality would often cause opposition defences to panic.

Right Half Forward – Declan McKay

A mainstay of the Rasharkin from a young age, Decky’s pace and cultured left foot had the ability to put notions of attack out of many half backs. Scored a memorable goal in the 2004 senior championship to knock out Portglenone in a pulsating replay.

Centre Half Forward – John McNeill

Playing around midfield and the half forward line, John mixed fitness, physique and guile to good effect and was often found driving St Mary’s forward. A classy footballer with a hard edge, he went on to represent Antrim and indeed Ireland in over 40s competitions.

Left Half Forward – Owen Quinn

Another Rasharkin man exiled in Australia, Owen could play almost anywhere on the pitch and switched between defence and attack with ease. His fitness and strong running could cause teams problems and he represented the county in the early 2000s.

Right Corner Forward – Johnny McAleese

One of the sharpest forwards to pull on the jersey, Johnny was yet another member of the 1999 minor team. Not only able to take a score from any number of angles, he could split the defence with an inch-perfect pass when required.

Full Forward – Jarlath Mooney

Although normally lining out in midfield or half-forward, making room for ‘Chisel’ was a must. His physicality often gave him an edge on his opponent and he had the vision to bring others into play effectively.

Right Corner Forward – Eamonn McNeill

If you are in need of a score, Eamonn can usually conjure one up. He has a single-mindedness for the posts that, although sometimes leaving team-mates bereft, usually ends with the umpire raising a white flag.


Brendan Etherson – Another midfielder known for aerial prowess, ‘Tiptoes’ was unlucky to miss out.

Donal McLernon – Claimed the number 1 jersey from Sean Hardy in the late 90s and retained it for over a decade.

Paul McFerran – A hugely versatile player whose passion and leadership continually drove the side forward.

History makers Ballycastle cruised past Crumlin to make a little bit of history

Forty years ago on Monday (June 1st) Ballycastle McQuillans made history when they became the first Antrim team to play in an All Ireland Club Hurling final where they took on Galway champions Castlegar in the decider at Pairc Tailteann in Navan. Their brilliant win over Crumlin of Dublin in the semi-final had set the Ulster champions up for a final appearance, initially fixed for Croke Park, but that was changed at the last minute, and Navan was venue.

Although it had been going since 1971 the club championship was still finding its feet back then and it has to be said it was not top of the agenda among the Croke Park hierarchy. When Ballyhale Shamrocks won their eighth All Ireland title back in January this year it was a high profile game, which went out on live TV but back then it was a different story. You just have to look at the match programme for the final to find out how little the authorities cared for the competition. The front cover was hand written – I kid you not – hand written. I wonder in the history of the GAA has that ever happened at any other time.

The point I am trying to make is that the four provincial winners were not treated with very much respect. Ballycastle had won their county title almost nine months beforehand and their provincial eight months, and I would imagine the other three semi-finalist were much the same. Not and ideal set-up to give teams the chance to prepare properly, I’m sure you would agree. The semi-finals were played the week before and it is that historic win over Crumlin of Dublin we are featuring here today.

In their own county championship title holders Ballycastle had beaten Glenariffe in the opening round before surviving an almighty scare against Loughgiel in the semi-final in August. The Shamrocks appeared to be on course for the win when they went in at the break leading by 3-4 to 0-6, one of the goals coming inside thirty seconds from Mick O’Connell. Full forward Brendan Laverty struck for two more goals before the break as the Shamrocks made good use of the wind to head into the Pearse Park dressing rooms at half time with a seven point lead.

Man of the match Peter Boyle lifted Ballycastle spirits when he pulled a point back early in the second half, his fifth of the game, and when his partner in crime Eddie Donnelly added another soon afterwards it was clear the Shamrocks seven point cushion was far from secure. As it turned out the Town dominated the second half to such an extent that Loughgiel could only manage two more points, and just one of them from play. ‘Porky’ Boyle went on to give and exhibition of score-taking, ending with nine to his name, while Eddie Donnelly grabbed five, and his younger brother Brian three, as they hit a second half total of 1-15 (the goal coming from Charlie McVeigh) to run out winners by 1-21 to 3-4.

Waiting for Ballycastle in the 1979 final was Cushendall who had made a historic breakthrough in the semi-final when the beat Rossa at Fr Maginn Park, Glenravel to book their place in the final for the first time.

The Ballycastle team who beat Cushendall in the 1979 county final

In that final champions Ballycastle proved too strong for this emerging Cushendall side and an early goal from Eddie Donnelly set them on their way.  Shane McNaughton and midfielders Liam McKillop and Dominic McKeegan showed well for the Ruairis but the skills of Peter Boyle, Brian Donnelly and Eddie Donnelly kept the Town on top and they lead by five at the break.

Donal McNaughton pulled a point back for Cushendall early in the new half, but a second goal from Eddie Donnelly and points from Brian Donnelly and Peter Boyle put the champions in control and they pushed on to win by 3-15 to 0-11, the third goal coming from tenacious corner forward Olcan Laverty.

Ulster final

Ballycran provided the opposition in the Ulster final and tough opposition it was when the sides met in horrendous conditions in Carey. It was a real battle of wills between two evenly matched teams and there was nothing to separate them at the end of a the first half which ended on four point apiece. Ballycastle opened up a three point lead midway through the second half and appeared to be gaining the upper hand but the Down champions closed to within two again with just ten minute left. The pressure was on once again as the men from the Ards went in search of what would have been a winning goal, but Stephen Boyle settled in the final minute with a well struck point from a free to give his team a 1-11 to 1-8 win and their second Ulster title.

The Ulster champions certainly got plenty of time to bask in the glory of their victory as it was another five months and two weeks before they saw action once again. They were drawn to play the Leinster champions Crumlin of Dublin in the next round, but their Leinster final against Camross of Laois wasn’t played until the March 23rd 1980  and it was four weeks after that Ballycastle got their chance. Croke Park was the venue and the Dublin champions were hot favourites to advance to the final, but Ballycastle had other ideas and they turned the form book on its head as they became the first Ulster club hurling team to win in Croke Park in the club championship and the first to reach and All Ireland final